It is a well known fact that a lack of drinking water can kill a person in a short amount of time. Why, then, did it take until May 31, 2012 for a Canadian government to recognize water and sanitation as a basic human right?
Well, just a few months ago, the Harper government was fighting to remove the provision about water and sanitation from discussions at RIO+20.
In an interview with Embassy, Environment Minister Peter Kent said the government was uneasy about “the scope and the content” of this right. Perhaps they should be most concerned that this declaration will put the state of many First Nations reserves in the spotlight.
Last year saw national outrage over the lack of adequate housing in Attawapiskat, which resulted in calls for better housing, better access to education and a better life for Aboriginal, First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. So far in 2012, Canada has received a report from the UN food rapporteur declaring one million Aboriginal and 55,000 Inuit are in a desperate situation when it comes to food security (a report that was panned by the government, but applauded by the Assembly of First Nations), and another UN report criticizing the difference in the situation on First Nations reserves and the rest of the country, suggesting that many of Canada’s indigenous peoples live in Third World conditions.
Will this new dedication to water and sanitation as a human right, will anything change in our own backyard? A program to improve water conditions on reserves is moving forward, along with planned improvement to education infrastructure, but a 2 percent cap on any increase to reserve spending is still in place and Aboriginal Affairs is seeing cuts to their staffing (like almost every other government department).
Canadians took notice when they saw the children of Attawapiskat living in shacks without heat or running water, but now they have to be shown the rest of the communities who are facing the same situation, with high levels of disease, addiction and suicide because governments, for decades, have been telling these kids that they’re less than.
Shawn Atleo, the national Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, seems to be optimistic about improvements to access to proper sanitation and potable water, and this point in our history is a great opportunity for First Nations youth, if they seize the opportunity to learn the skills Canada’s work force is lacking, and if they get the help they need from the rest of the country’s population.
Photo Credit: Lee Brimelow
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